As Doctors Embrace Social Media, Creating a Code of Conduct Is Crucial

As Doctors Embrace Social Media, Creating a Code of Conduct Is Crucial

150 150 Maureen Ezekwugo

code of conduct It’s only been 3 years since I’ve joined RealSelf as the EVP of Doctor Community, yet it’s amazing to me the tremendous shift that’s taken place in how doctors are embracing the world of social media, online reviews and the empowered consumer.  Social Media is no longer considered to be just a fad and has instead become a fundamental part of the marketing strategy of most every practice.

In my world, I am in direct communication with doctors every day.  I often get to hear the wonderful feedback from doctors on how their Q&A contributions and positive online reviews are helping them attract new patients and grow their practice.  That’s the fun part of my job.

The other side of the coin is not much fun but very important.  At least once every week I find myself helping a doctor or their staff with some type of ‘reputation management’ advice to help mitigate unfavorable content posted online about the doctor.  Sometimes, this unexpected post is a negative patient review.

More often, though, I get frantic calls from a doctor’s office about an inappropriate comment that a staff member has posted or, worse yet, I get a call from the staff about something inappropriate that the doctor has posted.  I’ll spare you the examples, let’s just say ‘awkward’ and ‘oops’ do not begin to describe some of the snafus I’ve seen doctors get themselves into with inappropriate comments!

In reality, the principles for representing your practice in social media include the same principles, ethics and confidentiality policies expected every day in your regular course of business.  It seems like common sense, but it’s not always obvious to everyone.  For this reason, I highly recommend that every doctor take the time to establish a Code of Conduct (CoC) with their staff to set standards on how they want themselves and their practice represented online and how they will respond to unfavorable posts when they inevitably happen.

One of the best examples of what a Code of Conduct can do for your practice was demonstrated by Johnson & Johnson during The Tylenol Crisis in 1982.  After product tampering led to 7 deaths and a product recall, Tylenol could have easily met its demise if the situation was not handled properly.  Instead, the company turned to a credo that was written in the 1940s on how they would handle a crisis and restore confidence in their brand.  Within a year, Tylenol had regained their market share and they continue to be one of the most trusted brands today.

By taking time to establish your practice’s CoC, if there is ever any question with how your team is expected to behave in the world of social media, proactively or reactively, they can refer to it as a guideline and rule of thumb.   As a result, the clarity of expectations will allow your staff to be better equipped to monitor their own actions within your social media strategy as well as make it easier for you to evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of their contributions.

Doctor Takeaways

1. It’s not always obvious

The boundaries of social media are more fluid than offline communication and often lead people to feel more comfortable in how far they can push the envelope.  Take the time to discuss with your staff how you can develop your online voice while maintaining privacy and professionalism.

2. Plan ahead

Don’t wait until a staff member posts something inappropriate or you receive negative feedback online to establish how you will or will not respond.  An effective Code of Conduct can serve as your ‘crisis management plan’ to help maintain your online reputation when unexpected posts happen.

3. Consider your brand

A CoC is not just about a crisis management plan.  It’s also a way to define how you want to be represented online.   Is it fun/social?  Strictly professional?  As an expert in a specific treatment?   A CoC can help align your Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc., with your vision.


Maureen Ezekwugo

As Chief Customer Officer for RealSelf, Maureen Ezekwugo works to enhance the quality of doctors’ experience with RealSelf’s community of aesthetic consumers.

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